It’s fair to say that over the course of the last five years at Arsenal expectations have been somewhat dampened, but the desire has not. A desire for success, a desire for the fans’ faith in their manager to be rewarded and the desire for pride to be restored to a club with such a rich history and poor immediate past.
Arsenal fans have seen the best players leave, opportunities for trophies slip through their fingers and pockets of dissent and disillusionment arising amongst the fan base. The criticisms of Arsenal fans last season were grossly unfair. When fans did voice their displeasure at the beginning of what would be tumultuous campaign the media were quick to turn on them, labelling them ungrateful of Arsene Wenger’s leadership and too unrealistic in their desire for success.
In doing so large swathes of journalists perpetrating such opinions conveniently forgot that for years they had been chastising the manager for his shortcomings whilst Arsenal fans had stuck by him, offering up virtually unconditional support and admiration.
I’d be interested to see if the supporters of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool or Tottenham would have stuck by their manager had he gone seven years without a trophy, and I wonder whether those supporters would still pay the highest prices in the Premier League to go and pack out a 60,000 seat stadium every single week if they suffered a slump from invincible champions to perennial underachievers.
The fact that it took so long for Arsenal fans to complain at all is something of a miracle, and when they did it was only after seeing their best players sold and only half of the money reinvested at a time when ticket prices were rising by a further 6%.
However, self pity is not part of the recipe for a return to glory. Arsenal and their fans may have experienced an unfortunate series of events during this trophy-less period – the end of year collapses of 2007/08 and 2010/11, the 2006 Champions League final and the Carling Cup final of 2011 – but ultimately to experience so much ‘bad luck’ is no coincidence.
However close Arsenal fans may feel they were and in whatever ways they feel hard done by, to experience such misfortune must actually be recognisable as failings of the team. Only then can Arsenal grow from their experiences. To only admit that luck cheated you would be to ignore your own failings.
To an extent, this already appears to have been recognised at the club with the signings of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud conducted in stark contrast to last year’s deadline day signings. So, what other aspects are important to recognise this coming season and what should the minimum expectations of the club be?
It may be a cliché but it is true nonetheless. A trophy is an absolute necessity. It doesn’t have to be the league or the Champions League, it could be anything. Until Arsenal win a trophy they will struggle with major players wishing to leave every summer. Last year Fabregas and Nasri, this season van Persie, next season: who knows?
The media undoubtedly makes it worse by constantly reminding the club of their recent problems on this front, and it is far from a disaster. There have been other barren spells in Arsenal’s history; they passed and so will this one. However, the longer it takes them to win a trophy the harder it will become as the squad will invariably become weaker year after year.
It is vital that the medical team at Arsenal do everything they can to facilitate the return of Jack Wilshere. There is no point saying he is ready for the beginning of pre season if they still have doubts. Arsenal cannot afford for Wilshere to go the way of Abou Diaby – perpetually injured and, consequently, permanently useless. Wilshere is, without doubt, the future of Arsenal’s midfield, he is one of the most talented players to have come through the academy at Arsenal and he must be managed well. Nobody wants a repeat of last season where he was brought back to training too early and suffered as a result. Better to have him back in October and back for the season than back in August and out again before Christmas. Especially when Alex Song will be travelling to the African Cup of Nations in January.
Last season Arsenal conceded 49 goals in the league. That’s more than any other team in the top eight except for Newcastle, who had conceded 51. Signings may not necessarily be the answer. Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen are more than capable of building a watertight partnership, Sagna is arguably the best defensive right back in the league in Szczesny Arsenal have a goalkeeper whose confidence is felt throughout the back four.
Admittedly, left back is not the strongest position at Arsenal, however Gibbs will improve as long as he manages to remain fit and Andre Santos’ defensive stats were surprisingly good for last season, his appearance as a slightly portly full back however does him no favours.
Many will hope that Steve Bould will sort out this Arsenal defence in his new role as assistant manager next season but fans should be warned that when he was in charge of the U18 side they experienced almost the exact same problem as the first team – lots of goals scored, lots of goals conceded.
Above all Arsenal must display signs of progression. If they cannot win a trophy, or if their defence cannot plug the holes, the very least that should be asked of them is that they make progress. For example, finishing second, progressing to the semi-final of the Champions League, ensure some trips to Wembley are created.
The fans and players might not be happy without a trophy, but they will at least be reassured if visible progression is made.
So what matters most to us Arsenal fans next season? It’s a simple question isn’t it, but there are so many ways of interpreting it, and any number of ways of answering it. Samsung have asked football fans ‘what matters most’ to them. I have added my thoughts to the process and I suggest you do the same by clicking here to be in with a chance to win a whole host of goodies, including a Samsung Smart Television ES8000 55”. Why not join the debate…